On (Not) Shouting At Your Children

Rebecca Newman and her children
Rebecca Newman and her children

I never thought I’d be that mother.

As my four-year-old climbs sticky down from her Stokke and hares toward the white sofa I find myself yelling: ‘ELSA!’.

What is it about parenthood that wears you down so perfectly?

How do I mould myself into my father, who spoke more quietly – and oh so effectively – when he was cross?

How, frankly, do I prevent myself from being the hypocrite who snaps and shouts, then turns to her kids to admonish: ‘we use indoor voices in the house…’.

Happily, I know someone who has the answers.

Melissa Hood is the founding director of The Parent Practice and a fellow Mumfidential blogger.

The former solicitor and mother of three has spent years studying and teaching parent / child interactions, and recently published a book, Real Parenting for Real Kids.

Here, she shares her wisdom (while I take a deep breath and count to ten).

How to stop your shouting

  • Ask yourself where the behaviour is coming from

Perhaps certain behaviours are common to her age group.

Or indeed are simply part of her temperament: rather than railing against her inability to walk from school to gym without looking into every window, take a deep breath and celebrate her curiosity.

Perhaps she is tired on the walk, or hungry? Can you motivate her better?

  • Recognise her emotional drivers

At age four, her prefrontal cortex is not developed – so you cannot expect perfect reason or logic or impulse control.

Your child wants to please you. But she also wants what she wants, right now. As parents we need to increase the ‘please you’ impulse by showing them what they get right, by giving more attention to their good behaviour than to their bad.

  • Be descriptive in your praise

Notice things that they are doing and describe them. ‘It was wonderful how kindly you helped your brother take his coat off and hang it up’.

  • Reward them visually

You could start putting pieces of pasta into a jar when she does something good – this will be an active marker of her good behaviour and you could reward her when it is full.

How to stay calm in the face of provocative behaviour:

  • Take care of yourself as a parent. People know they should, but tend not to, which means you are more likely to have a short temper or be less compassionate.
  • Have strategies: Your first response could be to empathise with the child, consider her feelings and listen to her. When a child is heard, without judgement, they will automatically feel calmer.When you have her attention, then consider how to talk to her about what she has done.
  • Accept the fact you are going to have to teach things – taking your friend’s rabbit will make her sad, you can’t take other people’s things – several times before she absorbs it.


Punishments, such as taking away her Frozen tiara, tend to breed resentment. It is far better to teach your child, and in a way that they will listen. Try:

  • To act before things escalate: if you’ve asked her three times to put down the iPad you’re already on the back foot. Go over to her, ask once calmly, and then make the effort to see that she puts it down immediately.

  • We recommend beginning with a Time Out, in which you both calm down. Then you discuss the behaviour: ‘I think you smacked your brother because he was playing with your rabbit…’. Make her feel understood, then ask her to make amends, and discuss how she might behave the next time.


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